- The U.N. climate change agency published a new report Sept. 8 confirming that while there has been progress on climate change mitigation since the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015, more needs to be done to limit the global rise in temperatures at 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels.
- The report is an element of the global stocktake, a Paris Agreement-prescribed inventory of progress toward climate-related goals.
- The authors of the report called for phasing out fossil fuels and ramping up renewable energy.
- The global stocktake process will conclude at the U.N. climate conference (COP28) beginning Nov. 30 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The world needs to ramp up action to address climate change, according to a major report from the United Nations released Sept. 8.
Meeting agreed-upon climate goals requires “phasing out all unabated fossil fuels,” according to the report on the first global stocktake.
The global stocktake is an inventory of the world’s progress toward slowing the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that are causing the rise in global temperatures. The 2015 Paris climate agreement set the requirement that the stocktake be carried out every five years. The process will wrap up at the 2023 U.N. climate conference (COP28) beginning Nov. 30 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“We are far off track from where we need to be with regard to what is set out in the Paris agreement,” said Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), at the Sept. 12 official launch of the report. “Our challenge now is how do we use the global stocktake as a global reset and tool to course correct whilst at the same time not forgetting where we have come from?”
The authors said actions taken by countries in the past eight years have begun to address the causes of climate change.
“Across the discussions it was clear that the Paris Agreement has inspired widespread action that has significantly reduced forecasts of future warming,” Farhan Akhtar, co-facilitator of the stocktake and the chief scientist for climate change at the U.S. State Department, said in a statement from U.N. Climate Change, as the UNFCCC secretariat is known. “This global stocktake is taking place at a crucial moment to inspire further global action in responding to the climate crisis.”
Still, humans aren’t acting quickly enough to keep the global temperature down and avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change, according to the report. The latest round of talks contributing to the stocktake that began at the Bonn climate conference in June drew on the most recent science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in March 2023 called for drastic cuts to greenhouse gases and ending fossil fuel use in line with a strong statement from U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.
“Fossil fuel producers and their financiers must understand one simple truth: Pursuing mega-profits when so many people are losing their lives and rights, now and in the future, is totally unacceptable,” Guterres told the Human Rights Council in February. “Unless humanity kicks its addiction to fossil fuels now, critical climate tipping points will crush the human rights of generations to come.”
Consideration of the stocktake at COP28 will guide a new round of countries’ nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, which are country-by-country climate action plans established by the Paris Agreement, as well as pinpoint areas in which climate change mitigation is falling short more generally. The Sept. 8 report doesn’t specify which countries have the most work to do, but it does call for “more ambitious mitigation targets” as part of the NDCs.
According to a 2022 report from U.N. Climate Change, the global temperature will rise by 2.5° Celsius (4.5° Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels by 2100 at the current rate of emissions, well above the 1.5°C (2.7°F) limit set by the Paris accords. With the current commitments of countries in their NDCs, the stocktake points to the need to end the increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and for a 43% reduction compared to 2019 emissions levels by 2030. That means cutting out 20.3 billion to 23.9 billion metric tons of CO2, which is roughly what the United States emits in four years.
Meeting the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 entails a 60% reduction of emissions compared to what they were in 2019, the report’s authors wrote.
UAE Industry Minister Ahmed al-Jaber, the president-designate of COP28, didn’t mention fossil fuels specifically in the U.N. Climate Change press release, instead referring generally to the need to reduce carbon-intensive energy.
“We need to rapidly decarbonize both the supply side and demand side of the energy system at the same time,” said al-Jaber, who is the head of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and previously led Masdar, a government-owned renewable energy company.
The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Environmental groups and politicians have criticized the selection of Dubai as host of the climate conference, questioning whether difficult decisions about drawing down fossil fuel usage can happen in a country that’s the world’s eighth-biggest producer of oil.
In addition to the need to draw down fossil fuel usage, the report highlights the importance of “scaling up renewable energy.” Leaders of the G20, a group of 19 countries along with the European Union and the African Union focused on solving global economic issues, agreed to “pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity” in meetings Sept. 9-10 in New Delhi, India. They, however, stopped short of calling for an end to fossil fuels.
“Continued dependence on fossil fuels remains a primary driver of climate change, carrying dire and irrevocable consequences for ecosystems, communities, and the global economy,” Alex Rafalowicz, director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said in a statement. “G20’s failure to come up with anything substantial on fossil fuel phase out is unacceptable.”
In the statement, Sanjay Vashisht, the director of the civil society coalition Climate Action Network South Asia, called the G20’s declaration “a clear victory for fossil fuel producing nations.”
Banner image: A coal mine in South Kalimantan, Indonesia. Image by Dominik Vanyi via Unsplash (Public domain).
John Cannon is a staff features writer with Mongabay. Find him on X @johnccannon
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